It was a typical summer day in New York: crowded, hot, and loud. I was working remotely, so naturally I spent the day walking around—anything to get out of my tiny, sweaty apartment. Like most people in the age of Airpods, I chose to withdraw from the city’s attack on the senses by listening to music.
I was listening to “Wheel Up My Tune,” my favorite track from Lolina’s Live in Paris, a remarkable album that was undoubtedly defining my summer so far. In fact, I was so engrossed that it nearly led to the gruesome fate that everyone in New York City fears: getting hit by a subway train.
I’ve had a good deal of experience with mental illness and at an early age developed a coping mechanism called “maladaptive daydreaming,” a condition where a person regularly experiences daydreams that are intense and highly distracting; so distracting, in fact, that the person may stop engaging with the tasks, people, and, in my case, feelings in front of them. I have spent entire days daydreaming—at home, on the train, on walks—in order to disconnect from myself and the negative emotions associated with childhood trauma, intense regrets, or other deep-rooted pain. Most who deal with maladaptive daydreaming have triggers that especially cause them to enter their complex daydream world. It quickly became apparent that mine was music, so I’ve spent much of my life with music on, constantly.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
My introduction to Lolina, then known as Inga Copeland, was through Hype Williams, the mysterious duo of Copeland and Dean Blunt. The duo gained a strong following for the way they transmitted pop culture nostalgia through a hazy, hypnagogic pop soundscape. After their split, Copeland, now recording as Lolina, went on to create increasingly diverse, unique works, none more personally impactful than Live in Paris.
Despite the name, Live in Paris isn’t actually a live album. The album is the audio portion of a performance Lolina released, and subsequently deleted, on Vimeo, in which a massive Monopoly board is projected behind her as the game piece moves around the board, landing properties and picking up community chest and chance cards—all of it a commentary on important issues such as wealth inequality, xenophobia, and Brexit.
The urbane sound collage of Live in Paris was captivating to me. I had just exited my first relationship and was not handling the break-up well. Living completely alone in an environment as energetic as New York City quickly created a level of lonely anonymity to the point where I felt like a ghost, and Live in Paris fed off that facelessness. Something about hearing the chain-lined combat boots walking on “Chance” or the incessant car horns and conversations on “Rage” separated me from the real world and allowed me to visualize something different, something better. Yes, I could hear any of those sounds on an average day if I wanted to, but the point was to leave the real world, not engage with it. As I struggled in the aftermath of my break-up, I lacked a sufficient support system. Real life continued to get harder, and I daydreamed more and more, to the point where it consumed nearly my entire life. In continually seeking to stay in my fantasies, I was quite literally neglecting myself both physically and mentally.
None of these experiences with Live in Paris or with any music are inherently bad; if anything, having a strong, visual imagination can be a beautiful thing. What makes maladaptive daydreaming scary is how it often develops into a behavioral addiction. As the world you create becomes larger and more complex, the real world shrinks. It became harder to exist as the real me rather than the happier me in my daydreams. Perhaps of most concern, the ramifications of my words and behavior in the real world felt inconsequential because I was more invested in what was going on in my own universe.
So, back to that summer day. With its chintzy synth lines and uncharacteristically accessible melody, “Wheel Up My Tune” was blasting at max volume as usual and I was waiting for the L train. Absorbing the music on the empty, dimly-lit subway platform, I walked along the yellow warning bumps that are in place to keep passengers from straying too close to the tracks. For some reason, the sensation on my feet helped stimulate my daydreams.
As I approached the rear end of the platform, I felt my right foot losing grip and I slipped forward. My stomach was completely on the ground, parallel to the tracks, and part of my head was hanging over the edge. I saw the grimy, littered tracks in closer detail than I ever had; my left shoulder was dangerously close to dangling over the edge to the point where my own weight could have pulled me down. Using the side of my body that was solidly on the platform, I slowly inched with my hand and hip to make my way back to a safe position where I could stand back up.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Soon after I got back on my feet, I felt the stagnant air from an incoming train rush into the station which made one thing clear: had I fallen completely into the well, I would’ve been a head-on target with no guarantee of the train stopping on time.
The event terrifies me in hindsight, but in the moment I did not feel the paralyzing fear that a near-death experience is supposed to bring—I was more concerned by the potential embarrassment if anybody on the platform had seen me. Maybe it was just the adrenaline, but I honestly did not process what the consequences might have been. I just boarded the train, continued listening to the album, and walked home, still completely consumed by the fantasy world I was spending my life in.
If your reaction to this account is one of shock and fear rather than my rather nonchalant response, you’d be absolutely right. Self-preservation and our impulse to prevent the harm of our body is one of our fundamental instincts as humans, and my initial reaction simply didn’t reflect much care for protecting my body.
Later that night, I finally processed what had actually happened and the delayed terror rushed into me, as if the slip had just happened. I realized that although I felt almost entirely disconnected from it, my body was a tangible, physical thing that could be damaged, destroyed, or in my case, pulverized by a train going 30 miles an hour. If this was to happen, it would not matter who I was in my daydreams or how happy I was. I began to realize that my daydreaming and the near-constant consumption of music was a genuine problem that was impairing both my physical and mental health, and if I wanted any hopes of a happy, healthy future, clearly something would have to change.
For years, I was afraid that reducing my daydreaming would dull my enjoyment of music and of life in general. I’m still working on the latter, but the former hasn’t proven to be true at all. I listen to Live in Paris now and am still transported to the movie in my head as the fake applause roars on the opening title track. The music still takes over my body and soul, but not always in a manner that represses my feelings and presence in reality.
This is real life and nothing is linear. Sometimes I just want to put my headphones on, blast music as loud as humanly possible, and fade into the universe I worked so hard to daydream into metaphysical existence. Sometimes that’s just what I do. Even if I understand that my daydreaming is not the most healthy way of coping and have developed alternatives, I am grateful for Lolina, Live in Paris, and music for providing me a beautiful outlet that got me this far.
Kainoa Nagao is an aspiring writer and proud cat parent based in Brooklyn. When not writing, he works for the department of health promoting the well-being of New York’s communities. You can follow and discuss music with him on Instagram @aoniiak